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Olympic Basketball 2021: USA vs. France Set for Men's Gold-Medal Game

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVAugust 5, 2021

Liu Yaru/CHINASPORTS/VCG via Getty Images

Team USA will face off with France in the men's basketball gold-medal game at the Tokyo Olympics after their respective wins in Thursday's semifinals at Saitama Super Arena in Japan.

The United States overcame an early 15-point deficit to score a comfortable 97-78 win over Australia. Kevin Durant led the charge with 23 points and nine rebounds, while Devin Booker chipped in 20 points for the Americans, who will be looking for their fourth straight Olympic title Saturday.

France narrowly escaped a serious challenge from Luka Doncic and Slovenia as Nicolas Batum made a game-saving block in the final seconds to preserve a 90-89 victory. Nando de Colo (25 points) and Evan Fournier (23) paced the French offense in the semifinal thriller.


Gold-Medal Game Information

Where: Saitama Super Arena in Japan

Tokyo Time: Saturday, Aug. 7, at 11:30 a.m. JST

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U.S. Time: Friday, Aug. 6, at 10:30 p.m. ET

Watch: Peacock or NBC Olympics


Championship Game Preview

Alarm bells started to sound after Team USA dropped its Olympic opener against France following a lackluster run of exhibition games that included losses to Nigeria and Australia.

Gregg Popovich's group has looked closer to the dominant form that's expected from the U.S. since that Group A loss to France, winning four straight games by an average of 30.5 points to reach the final.

"There were a lot of guys on this team that had straight faces and were ready to play when we were down 15β€”strong faces is what Pop said," Durant told reporters about the semifinal comeback. "They came out and hit us with a nice haymaker, and we were able to get back up and get that lead back."

Although Durant is the center of attention, it's taken a complete team effort for the Americans to turn around their fortunes. That was on display once again Thursday as four players (Durant, Booker, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton) reached double figures in scoring and two others (Jayson Tatum and Zach LaVine) scored nine points.

USA Basketball @usabasketball

Zach's bounce is just π™™π™žπ™›π™›π™šπ™§π™šπ™£π™© 😲<br><br>πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ <a href="https://twitter.com/ZachLaVine?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ZachLaVine</a> x <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Tokyo2020?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Tokyo2020</a> <a href="https://t.co/ISo59sX2kr">pic.twitter.com/ISo59sX2kr</a>

The United States is likely to need a similar well-rounded performance to win gold, especially since France was able to hold KD to 10 points in the teams' prior meeting in the Games.

Another key will be protecting the basketball. The U.S. pulled away from Australia despite a mediocre 19-16 assist-to-turnover ratio. It'll likely look to keep that turnover figure below 10 in the final after giving the ball away 12 times against France the first time around.

Meanwhile, France carried a six-point lead in the fourth quarter of its semifinal against Slovenia, but Doncic and Co. fought back and had the ball in their hands with a chance to win.

Doncic was doubled as he attempted to drive the lane, so he dished to Klemen Prepelic, who appeared to have a clean lane to the hoop for the go-ahead layup. Batum had other ideas as he saved the game for Les Bleus:

#TokyoOlympics @NBCOlympics

BATUM.<br>BLOCK.<br>BUZZER.<br>BALLGAME.<br><br>FRANCE advances to play the United States for men's basketball gold! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TokyoOlympics?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TokyoOlympics</a> <a href="https://t.co/4DEDosc94i">pic.twitter.com/4DEDosc94i</a>

France heads into the rematch with the U.S. undefeated in the tournament. Beating the Americans for a second time will be its toughest test, and a win would give the country its first Olympic gold medal in men's basketball. It won silver in 1948 and 2000.

De Colo, Fournier and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot have given the French squad a lot of offensive firepower in the backcourt and on the wing, but center Rudy Gobert figures to play a critical role against a U.S. team with a limited number of impact players in the post.

Gobert (7'1''), who tallied nine points, 16 rebounds and four blocks against Slovenia, will probably match up with Bam Adebayo (6'9'') initially, but his presence could force the Americans to use JaVale McGee (7'0'') more frequently for the defensive boost, which could slow the U.S. offense.

If Gobert can dominate on the low block, France will have a real shot at another upset in the gold-medal game.

Team USA's recent resurgence makes it the favorite heading into the final, though.

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